Jason was humming a tune he had been listening to on his car stereo during his drive home from work as he strode through the front door and headed to the kitchen. His younger brother was sitting at the kitchen table talking on the telephone. His father was over in the sunken family room looking at the newspaper while the evening news was on the television.
“Hi, Dad,” Jason said.
“Jason. How was work?” father asked.
“Good, real good.”
“Oh yeah,” Jason said positively as he went down to the family room. “We had this big company wide meeting today. Everybody was there, including the owners. Went really well too. Upper management said we’d make the transition through the current world situation so easily that nobody would notice.”
“That sounds grand,” father said amusedly.
“Well, that’s the way they put it, but it all sounded legit.”
“Will any of that new business trickle down to the rest of you?”
“They promised it would, they even set out a huge spread for us. I’m full.”
“So you won’t need any dinner tonight,” father joked.
“I’ll make room,” Jason said humorously. “But you know what, we’re in the satellite imaging business, and they have lots of uses, not just military. They say the future is looking bright.”
“Well that’s good,” father said. “But remember, they’re only going to tell you what they want you to know. They can’t risk the commoners knowing too much.”
“They’re smart people, they know what they’re doing.”
“Maybe they’re just acting like they know what they’re doing,” father pointed out.
“Well whatever they’re doing, it’s working. I got a good feeling about where we’re going and I’m glad to be a part of it.” Jason looked over at his brother. “David, anyone call for me?”
David pulled away the receiver. “No.” He spoke back into the telephone. “Who? That was brother… Older…Yeah, I’m the youngest.”
“Now you heard about this Hubble telescope fiasco, right?” father said to Jason.
Jason looked back at father. “Oh yeah, everybody at work has been talking about it.”
“A couple of billion charged to the taxpayers and the damn thing doesn’t even work right,” father ridiculed as he pointed to an article in the newspaper.
“He’s only been here for a couple of months,” David said into the telephone. “He had to move back home because of credit card debt.”
“Hey! Don’t be telling the world my business,” Jason said angrily toward the kitchen.
David pulled the receiver away. “Sorry.”
“Kid sure is a blabbermouth, eh?” father laughed.
“Yeah he is,” Jason agreed.
“So the point I’m trying to make,” father continued, “is that no matter how high up the ladder someone is, no one is immune to incompetency. Some people just know how to present themselves well, suck up to the right people, and that’s it.”
“Yeah, I see what you’re saying, but I really think the people I’m working for are too smart for that,” Jason assured. “They’re even bringing in some new investors, and that can only mean things are looking up. Investors aren’t going to gamble their money on something with no future.”
“Maybe so, but remember, we had a stock market crash just a couple of years ago,” father reminded.
Jason tried to remember the crash. “Seems like we’ve recovered.”
Father laughed. “Yeah, seems like we have.”
“See? Things are getting better right now. And I’m in a good place, so I’m just going to go with it.”
“Sounds like you know what you’re doing, but remember,” father cautioned as he pointed to the Hubble telescope newspaper article again, “all it takes is a mistake at the top that trickles down and fucks it up for everyone else. And you know that none of the people who came up with this boondoggle are going to get fired.”
“That’s where the job security is,” Jason said, and they shared a laugh as he left the family room. He headed through the dining area, down the hallway, and entered his room. He closed the door, and the sound of the television and David talking became faint. He tossed his keys onto the nightstand, then sat on his bed and took off his shoes. He looked at his collection of compact discs, picked one out, placed it in his CD player, and pressed the play button. He fell back onto his bed and the music permeated the room. He relaxed unhurriedly.
Jason lost himself in the music as he basked in the afterglow of the meeting at work. He felt content, and anticipated a brighter future. When the company expands I’ll be able to rise up the ladder and make more money, he predicted confidently, and then I can move out of the house and be on my own again.
A few minutes later he heard his mother come home followed by the sound of a couple of bags of groceries being set on the kitchen counter. From the calmness of his room he overheard activity happening in the rest of the house. He then heard a knock on the front door. His mother answered and he heard his friend Randy. “So where’s Jason?” Randy asked.
“I think he’s in his room,” mother answered.
“I hear there’s going to be a huge party at Todd’s this weekend,” David said.
“Sorry, Dave, grown ups only,” Randy said.
“That’s all right,” David replied, “me and the guys will find something to do.”
“See?” Randy said to David. “You got things going on.”
“David got a part time job at Long’s,” mother said proudly.
“So you’re a working man now,” Randy congratulated. “Way to go!”
“I just stock shelves,” David said. “Not exactly brain surgery.”
“But you are learning about responsibility,” mother reminded.
“And making some money,” father added.
“That’s right,” Randy agreed, “got to have the green. Listen to your folks or you’ll end up like me,” he joked. “I’ll go bother Jason.”
Jason heard quick steps to his room and a knock on the door. “Come in,” he said.
The door opened and Randy entered. His clothes were dirt stained. “Already in bed? The sun is still out.”
“Just relaxing after a day’s work.”
“I just worked too,” Randy chided, “and you don’t see me layin’ around.”
Jason lifted his head up. “You found work?”
“Yep. Terry hooked me up a job with a landscaper.”
“Way to go.”
“Now let’s celebrate and go shoot some hoops!”
Jason dropped his head back onto his pillow. “Can’t. I’ve got class tonight.”
“Again? You had class last night.”
“It’s a Monday through Thursday night class.”
“But it’s summer!” Randy pleaded. “What are you going to school for?”
“It’s just one class, and it’s only for six weeks,” Jason said. “Excuse me for trying to get an education.”
“You weren’t talking about getting an education back when we were cutting classes in high school.”
“I didn’t cut nearly as much as you.” Jason looked over at his clock. “And I’m going to have to leave in half an hour.”
“Aw, c’mon, you can skip one class!” Randy persuaded. “Why you want to drive all the way out to Los Gatos?”
“It’s in Saratoga.”
“So what’s your point?”
“My point is that today’s Thursday,” Randy said, “so you know what means?”
Jason thought for a moment. “Tomorrow’s Friday?”
“So you want me to cut school and go shoot hoops with you?”
“Of course,” Randy said. “Once we get to the park and throw the ball around you’ll feel better, a whole lot better than if you went to class.”
“I don’t know,” Jason said reluctantly. “It’s early in the semester.”
“One missed class isn’t going to hurt.”
Jason thought it over. “I suppose not, but I don’t know.”
“C’mon, dude. You said we’d play this week, and the week’s almost over.”
Jason started to relent. “Well, you did find a job. That’s worth celebrating.”
“It’s only a temporary job.”
“Again? Seems like all your jobs are temporary.”
“Hey! At least I did something!” Randy argued. “Look at me, dirty from a hard day’s work. And look at you, just layin’ there like a lazy bastard.”
“I’m just messin’ with ya,” Jason kidded.
“Yeah, I know,” Randy said. “Hell, when you come right down to it, work sucks, but school sucks even more because you don’t get paid for it, so let’s go!” Randy looked around. “Where’s your basketball?”
“At your place.”
“So we’ll stop at my place and get it,” Randy urged. “C’mon, it’s on the way. You said you’d play, remember?”
Jason weighed going to school against the fun of a playing basketball. He reminded himself of the importance of getting an education, but didn’t want to deny Randy either. A decision came to him. “Okay, you talked me into it.” He sat up.
“Now you’re talking!”
“I’ll just copy the notes from another student.” Jason put on his running shoes. “I could use the exercise anyway.”
“That’s right,” Randy agreed. “You do too much sitting at your job, time to break a sweat.”
“At least it’s steady.” Jason finished tying his shoes and got up.
“But how do you know they won’t lay you off someday?”
“Please, you’re ruining my good mood,” Jason said half seriously. “Besides, I don’t see that happening. Things are looking up for us.” He turned off his stereo, grabbed his keys, and left with Randy. “Going to the park to shoot some hoops, Mom.”
“Have fun,” mother said as they walked out the front door.
Jason and Randy walked along the suburban street under the orange glow of the early summer sun. The sidewalk neatly divided the front yards from a strip of lawn next to the curb. Some lawn strips were covered with rocks, juniper bushes, trees, or were overgrown with crabgrass. All the houses were of the same four or five designs with a living room on one side and a garage and driveway on the other. Variations of color and exterior features lessened the conformity. Jason felt comfortable in the familiarity of the neighborhood.
“Just like the old days,” Randy said happily. “Going to the playground to shoot some hoops!”
“Wonder if we’ll ever grow up,” Jason wondered.
“Now why you want to do something like that?” Randy laughed.
Jason tried to figure out an answer. “You got me.” They stepped over a wide crack in the sidewalk where a tree root had lifted the concrete.
“That’s right, you know what I’m talking about,” Randy said. “All work and no play makes life boring as shit, and I don’t want to see you turn into a bore.”
“Just because I have a regular job and I’m going to school doesn’t mean I don’t know how to have a good time,” Jason countered.
“Yeah, but now you save all your fun for Christine,”
“Hey, I can still party.”
“I don’t know,” Randy doubted. “She seems to have you on a short leash.”
“A leash?” Jason laughed. “We ain’t that kinky.”
They turned down another residential street. “So you ready for tomorrow night?” Randy asked.
“Of course.” Jason began to look forward to their friend’s birthday party.
“Twenty five years. Can you believe that?”
“I know,” Jason agreed. “Kind of sounds old.”
“It’s one of life’s major events,” Randy said, “so you know it’s going to be raging.”
“I am so looking forward to it,” Jason anticipated. “I have a good feeling about this party, I think it’s going to be extra special.”
“I’m ready to cut loose,” Randy said eagerly, “and this time I earned it.” The nondescript, quiet street slowly rolled into a curve and crossed over a narrow creek. A short concrete wall with cyclone fencing topped with rusty barbed wire separated the sidewalk from the creek. Its banks sloped down a shallow stream of green water partially covered with dry weeds and foliage.
Jason and Randy finally arrived at Randy’s house. An old car was parked in the driveway. The front lawn was dry and overgrown. The house was faded with paint starting to crack.
“Is that you, Randy?” a loud voice said from the kitchen as they entered.
“When are you going to mow the lawn?” Randy’s mother called out. “It looks like shit.”
“Mom, I have a guest.”
“Just me,” Jason said while Randy went to his room.
“Oh, hi, Jason,” Randy’s mother said nicely. She ambled slowly into the foyer. She was wearing a bathrobe and using a cane. “So how are you doing?”
“Doing all right.”
“Good, good. And how’s your mother?”
“Doing well,” Jason answered. “She really likes her new job.” Randy returned with the basketball.
“Glad to hear that,” she said. “There are still places out there that don’t like to hire women, especially mothers.”
“Good thing Mom landed at the right place,” Jason said.
“And how’s your father?” Randy’s mother asked.
“Also doing well, looking forward to retirement.”
“So I suppose you two are going to the park to play some basketball?” Randy’s mother asked.
“No, Mom, we’re going bowling,” Randy said as he tossed the basketball around in his hands.
“Well, smartass, could you mow the lawn when you get back?” Randy’s mother responded testily. “I filled the gas can yesterday and I don’t want it sitting in the garage forever.”
“Don’t worry,” Randy said, “the house isn’t going to blow up.”
“No, it’s not going to blow up because you’re going to mow the lawn ASAP.” She looked over at Jason and put her hand on her lower back. “I’d do it myself but I can’t. My back’s killing me. I won’t be able to go back to work for six months. Doctor says I might even need surgery,” she added.
“You’ll be fine,” Randy said.
“And you,” she pointed at Randy sternly, “stop stealing my Percodans.”
“Right, they just disappeared on their own.” Randy’s mother ambled back to the kitchen area. “You two have fun.”
Randy and Jason left. Randy dribbled the ball as they walked down the sidewalk. “My mom’s making way too big of a deal about her back injury,” Randy informed. “She isn’t going to need any surgery. She just wants sympathy.”
“I don’t know,” Jason said, “back injuries can be pretty bad.”
“She’s also trying to milk workman’s comp.”
“Wasn’t she just on crutches?”
“You taking her side?” Randy said a little hurt.
“Well, someone has to,” Jason said trying to sound humorous.
“That’s because she treats you better than me.”
“I think all mothers do that,” Jason pointed out. “It’s their way of trying to get you to act like some other kid that they think is better behaved.”
“Even your mom?” Randy said surprisingly.
“Not anymore, she only does it to David now.”
Randy laughed. “Your mom’s cool.” He dribbled the ball a couple of more times then passed it to Jason. “So how are things with you and your main squeeze?”
Jason began dribbling the ball. “Can’t complain.”
“So what’s the secret?”
Jason was puzzled. “What secret?”
“The secret to keeping a woman from leaving you.”
“Beats me,” Jason admitted. “I didn’t know were going to last this long.”
“Must be why you’re always with her,” Randy kidded.
“Things are good, we’re happy,” Jason said feeling satisfied, then another thought came to mind. “Now her family, that’s a different story.”
“Oh, I see,” Randy said pointedly. “You don’t live up to their standards.”
“No, I don’t think it’s that.” Jason dribbled the ball ahead of him. “It’s just that we’ve been going together for almost three years now, they see us together all the time, they treat me like I’m one of the family. And now I’m thinking they want me to take that next step.” He thought some more. “I’m almost a hundred percent positive.” He dribbled the ball a couple of more times then bounced it over to Randy.
“Has anyone said anything to you?” Randy asked as he took the ball and dribbled it.
“Not directly, they just say stuff like, ‘back in the old days, everybody got married when they were still young.’ You know, hints like that.”
“Subtle,” Randy joked. “Yeah, they’re putting on the pressure.”
“Guess I can’t say I blame them,” Jason said. “Family is family.” He thought a little more. “But sometimes it does seem like they’re being too possessive about Christine.”
“They got to get over it,” Randy concluded. “You can’t let them tell you what to do.”
“Yeah, I know,” Jason agreed. “But they’re…you know, traditional.”
“Yeah, but it’s not what they think, it’s what Christine thinks. Do you think she really wants to get married or is her family putting her up to it?”
“Sometimes she complains about how controlling they are, but she does have her own mind about things,” Jason said. “Believe me.”
“You know what they all might be thinking,” Randy said.
“That you’re some lech who’s trying to use their little girl.”
Jason laughed. “If that was my plan we would’ve been over with long ago.” They walked along some more. “Christine isn’t that type of girl anyhow.”
“I’ll say,” Randy agreed. “You’ve been with her longer than all your previous girlfriends combined. You two should just move in together.”
“I don’t think Christine’s family would like that, being traditional and all.”
“How long have you two been together three years?”
“So if you two ever do tie the knot they know it’s not going to be a white wedding,” Randy reminded.
“Yeah, they’re past that,” Jason said. “At least I think they are.”
“Not your problem anyhow,” Randy counseled. “If you did move in together, it would show that you’re serious. That should get them off your back.”
“Well I don’t plan on living at home forever, but right now might be the last time I get any free meals or free rent,” Jason said. “Besides, if we did move in together, that’s like saying we’re engaged.”
“And you don’t want to give up your life as a free man, I hear ya.”
“And I’m not ruling it out, it’s just that it’s a big step and I have to make sure it’s the right thing to do.”
“Good plan. You don’t want to get locked into anything just because of Christine’s family,” Randy advised as he passed the ball to Jason in mid stride.
“Of course,” Jason said as he dribbled the ball. “But they’re good people.”
“Sure they are, especially that fine cousin of hers. What’s her name again, Melinda?”
“Yeah, Melissa,” Randy said. “Does she look good or what?”
“She’s not bad.”
“Not bad? She’s fuckin’ gorgeous,” Randy said excitedly. “Did you ever want to leave Christine for her?”
“Hey, I love Christine.”
“Of course you do, but you used to love a lot of girls, remember?”
“Yeah, but that was then,” Jason said. “Chris isn’t like most other girls, at least like the ones I’ve met. We’re in a good place right now, and I just want to enjoy it and not worry about a bunch of other things.”
“She means a lot to you, I understand, but you don’t want to lose all your options,” Randy said helpfully. “I love Gina, at least I love fucking her. But am I in love with her, do I want to marry her? No way.”
“You know,” Jason began, “if this was the old days, Chris and I would be married already, living in our own house, paying a mortgage, maybe with a kid or two already. Nowadays, all of that stuff is just too expensive.”
“For sure,” Randy agreed. “And women these days don’t want to be housewives. They want to go to college, get careers, do their own thing. They’re not at man’s mercy anymore.”
“You’re telling me, Chris makes more than I do,” Jason admitted. “That never would have happened in the old days.”
“But she works for lawyers, and they make more bank than anybody,” Randy said. “And don’t be afraid to mooch off of her, I wish Gina made good money.”
“Yeah, but I want to be a provider,” Jason asserted. “And she doesn’t make that much more than me,” he added. “You know, it was that trip we took to Hawaii that put me on the path to debt. We may have partied a little too much.”
“Yeah, but you had a good time, right?”
Jason dribbled the ball and reflected happily on the trip as they were walking. “I wouldn’t mind doing it again, maybe run up a bigger debt.”
“There you go! And you know I would’ve run up a huge debt if someone was dumb enough to give me a credit card.”
“They’d confiscate your card and send you to that leper colony island,” Jason kidded.
“And I’ll be their leader!” Randy laughed. “But seriously, all those fine ass bitches in bikinis laying out on the beach right in front of you, must have been tempting.”
Jason thought back to the scene on the beach and smiled. “No harm in looking.”
“Yeah, I knew it,” Randy said. “A whole lotta pussy out there, and I don’t want you to miss out if you’re still feeling the need.”
“Thanks for looking out for me,” Jason said with a laugh.
“Hey, what are friends for,” Randy said as he draped his arm around Jason’s shoulders. “But you gotta let me plan your bachelor party, if you get married that is. I got to make sure you leave bachelorhood in a blaze of glory.”
“Okay, but nothing too crazy like in that Tom Hanks movie.”
“No cross dressers, no farm animals on drugs, I promise,” Randy said then let go of Jason. “You know, we haven’t even hit our prime yet, we’re only twenty two.”
“I’m twenty three.”
“You are?” Randy said with surprise.
“Yeah, don’t you remember the party?”
“Oh yeah, I remember now. All the parties seem to run together,” Randy said humorously. “So twenty three? Dude, you’re old.”
They approached the park, a patch of green open space at one corner of an intersection. Near the entrance were the basketball courts, painted rectangles on the black asphalt in between steel poles. Ten feet up the poles were wooden backboards that held horizontal metal hoops with the dangling, tattered remnants of chain link nets. The rhythmic, high pitched metallic whine of swings being ridden by children sounded in the background.
Randy hit the ball from Jason’s hands and broke into a jog while dribbling all the way to the empty basketball courts. He ran up to the closest basket, jumped up and rolled the ball off his hand. It hit the back board and fell through the basket. “Two!” he exclaimed as Jason arrived at the court.
Randy went to get the ball and looked over at some high school kids playing on one of the
courts. “Hey, check out Craig’s little brother. Tommy!” he called out. One of the guys at the other court looked over at Randy, waved to him, then returned to his game. “He’s not as good as Craig was.”
“Not yet, but he might catch up,” Jason said.
“I don’t know, looks pretty runty.”
Jason walked up to the painted line that crossed the middle of the court.
“Wanna take it out?” Randy asked.
Randy bounced the ball to Jason. Jason began dribbling. He tried to see a path to the basket, crossed the half court line and dribbled slowly while moving one way then another as Randy stayed in front of him. He moved closer to the end of the court as Randy stayed between him and the basket. He got to within shooting distance, held up the ball with one hand, balanced it with the other, sprang up and shot the ball as Randy reached up and tried to block it. The ball arced over Randy, missed the basket, and ricocheted off the backboard. They both ran after the ball and Randy grabbed it first.
“Too slow,” Randy taunted, and Jason’s competitiveness was triggered. Randy dribbled to the half court line as Jason followed him. Jason got in front of Randy and stayed in front of him as he dribbled the ball back into play. Jason kept up with Randy as they advanced steadily toward the basket. Randy moved one way, then another, then charged toward the basket. Jason ran with him, Randy then circled around, aimed the ball to the basket and Jason threw his arms up. Randy quickly dribbled around Jason, jumped to the basket with the ball in his palm and lofted it up. Jason tried to block as the ball bounced off the backboard then dropped through the hoop. “That’s one,” Randy said.
“That one doesn’t count,” Jason said.
“Because I let you have it.”
Randy laughed sarcastically while Jason grabbed the ball as it bounced to a stop underneath the basket. He took it to the other side of the half court line then dribbled the ball back into play as Randy blocked. He ran down the side of the court while dribbling and Randy quickly ran beside him. Jason slanted to the middle, tried to get past Randy, and slowed to a stop with his back to the basket. He dribbled the ball cautiously and maneuvered sideways and back while Randy stood behind him with his arms outstretched. He then held the ball with both hands and tried to figure his next move as he sensed Randy encroach upon him. He cautiously dribbled the ball again, moved right and drew Randy into one direction, then dodged the other way, spun around him, shot the ball over the hoop and through the basket. “One to one,” Jason said.
“Okay, we’re warmed up,” Randy said. He took the ball to the half court line, dribbled the ball back into play and Jason got in front of him. Randy moved ahead slowly, first one way, then another as Jason stayed ahead of him. Suddenly he charged around Jason and Jason ran with him as he tried to stay in front. They raced to the basket and bumped against each other as they got closer. Near the end of the court Randy got the ball in both hands and jumped forward. Jason jumped alongside Randy and tried to get a hand on the ball. Randy pushed the ball up and sank it into the basket. “Yes!” he boasted. “Two-one.”
Jason grabbed the ball and jogged to the other side of the half court line. He looked down the court as Randy stood in front of him and focused ahead on the basket. He dribbled the ball across the line as Randy stayed in front of him. He bolted, stopped abruptly, and Randy overran him a couple of steps. Jason huddled around the ball as he dribbled and Randy tried to reach in and knock it free. Jason moved laterally, then dodged around Randy and shot the ball to the basket. It rolled around the hoop and fell through. “Two-two,” he said.
“That was luck.” Randy grabbed the ball, hustled to the half court line, and Jason quickly followed. Randy dribbled the ball in place as Jason tried to anticipate his next move. Randy broke past Jason and dribbled ahead quickly as he ran alongside and fought to keep pace. Randy jumped to the basket while pushing the ball up with one hand as Jason jumped next to him and batted the ball away. It ricocheted off the backboard and bounced onto the court. Randy grabbed the ball before Jason could get to it, turned around and shot the ball off balance. Jason reached up and tried to deflect it. The ball cleared Jason’s hand, skimmed off the backboard, and bounced out of bounds over the foul line. Jason ran after the ball across the asphalt and picked it up as it slowed down.
As Jason circled around and jogged back to the court he saw two familiar figures approaching from the edge of the park, one of them was bouncing a basketball. Jason got to the foul line and looked again at the two figures, recognized them and saw they were advancing toward him and Randy.
“C’mon, let’s go,” Randy urged.
“We got company,” Jason said and nodded toward the two approaching guys.
Randy turned around, saw Tim and Ronnie, and started laughing. “You two looking to get beat again?” Tim and Ronnie walked up to the court. Tim was holding a basketball against his hip.
“Nah,” Ronnie said, “we just happened to be in the neighborhood. Then we saw you two stumbling around and figured you needed a lesson.”
Jason and Randy started laughing.
“Stop, you’re killing us,” Jason said between laughs.
“I know why they’re here,” Randy said after he finished laughing, “they’re here to watch and learn!” He and Jason laughed some more.
“Shit,” Ronnie said disdainfully, and looked over at Tim. Tim dribbled his ball a couple of times then broke toward the basket, ran past Jason and Randy, leaped, and laid the ball up to hoop with one hand. It fell through and bounced along the asphalt until it came to a stop.
“Wow!” Randy exclaimed sarcastically. “You’ve been practicing.”
“Guess you don’t need a step ladder anymore,” Jason added derisively.
“Think you can keep up?” Ronnie dared.
“We take it out,” Randy insisted.
Jason took his ball and went to the end of the court. He stood underneath the backboard behind the painted white perimeter while the others gathered around in front of him. “Full court?”
“Of course,” Ronnie said as he moved in front of Jason.
“What are we playing to, ten? Fifteen?” Jason asked.
“Fuck that, twenty,” everyone else said.
“All right,” Jason said. He held the ball with both hands and looked for Randy past Ronnie and Tim. Ronnie blocked Jason and Tim stood in front of Randy. Jason faked a pass quickly one way and then the other as Ronnie shifted side to side. Jason spotted Randy as he ran around and tried to separate from Tim. Randy stopped, Tim stood in front of him as they both watched Jason, then Randy broke away and Jason threw him the ball before Tim caught up.
Randy dribbled quickly down the side of the court as Tim ran alongside and tried to keep up. Jason and Ronnie chased after them along the other side of the court and tried to outrun each other. Randy came to the end of the court, stuttered to a stop, and Tim stopped between him and the basket. Jason and Ronnie caught up to them and they all clustered at the end of the court. Randy passed the ball to Jason, Jason dribbled slowly to the basket as Ronnie blocked him. Jason looked left, saw Randy run from behind Tim, and bounced the ball right to where Randy was going. Randy grabbed the ball, turned around, jumped up and shot the ball to the basket. It rolled around the hoop and fell through.
“One-nothing,” Randy said.
Tim took the ball and stood underneath the backboard. He deked the ball one way then the other as Randy blocked him. Ronnie moved around and away from Jason as Jason kept up and stayed between Ronnie and Tim. Jason watched Ronnie then Tim as he tried to anticipate where Tim was going to throw the ball. Ronnie ran in front Jason and Tim shot the ball to him past Randy. Ronnie dribbled quickly to the other basket and Jason ran after him. They crossed the half court line and Ronnie passed the ball to Tim on the other side of Jason. Tim dribbled quickly to the basket and Randy tried to get in his way as they bumped against each other. Tim threw the ball to Ronnie, Ronnie hopped up and shot the ball over Jason as he tried to deflect the ball. The ball glanced over Jason’s hand, hit off the backboard then fell through the basket.
“One-one,” Ronnie said. Randy took the ball and stood under the backboard. Jason dodged around Ronnie as he tried to find an opening from Randy. He ran in front of Ronnie and angled behind Tim, then Randy shot the ball to him diagonally. Jason got the ball with one hand while running and pushed it down and forward as he ran and dribbled down court. Jason heard Ronnie’s footsteps fast behind and he sped up. He approached the basket from the right, jumped as he lifted the ball with one hand toward the hoop, and Ronnie smacked the ball from behind. The ball fell down onto the court and Randy snagged the ball ahead of Tim. He came to a stop and dribbled in place as Tim got in front of him and Jason positioned himself for a pass. Randy slowly dribbled to the basket and Tim blocked him as Jason shifted one way then another and Ronnie stayed in front of him. Randy dribbled some more, turned then set himself to shoot. Tim got in front of Randy while Jason circled behind Randy with Ronnie trailing him to the other side of the basket.
“Here,” Jason called out while still in motion and Randy passed him the ball. Jason took the ball, jumped up to the basket and tried to shove it over the hoop. The ball bounced backward over Jason and Ronnie and they chased after it. They jostled against each other as Jason grabbed the ball first and quickly dribbled away. He looked for another shot or a way to get the ball to Randy. Ronnie got in front of him while Randy and Tim jockeyed for position near the basket. Jason slowly dribbled toward middle court as Ronnie shadowed him. Randy and Tim stood against each other underneath the basket, then Randy broke away and Jason pushed the ball to him. Randy got the ball, shot it before Tim caught up, and it fell through the basket.
“Two-one,” Randy said loudly.
Tim grabbed the ball as it bounced under the basket and stood under the backboard. Jason blocked Ronnie as he watched Tim and tried to predict where he was going to throw the ball. Ronnie got in front of Jason, Jason moved back in front of Ronnie and they crowded each other until Ronnie broke away and Tim passed him the ball. Ronnie hurriedly dribbled down court and Jason ran after him as he got caught up in the antagonistic, competitive spirit.
Ronnie and Jason got to the end of the court as Randy and Tim ran upon them and they all bunched up around the basket. Ronnie passed the ball to Tim, Tim dribbled to the basket while trying to dodge Randy, then passed the ball back to Ronnie. Ronnie set himself to shoot, Jason got in front of him, and Ronnie passed the ball diagonally to Tim. Randy reached for the ball, deflected it, and it bounced away. Tim and Randy ran after the ball followed by Ronnie and Jason. Tim got to the ball first, picked it up, and dribbled rapidly back to the end of the court as Randy, Ronnie, and Jason ran after. Tim got to the basket, jumped forward and hooked the ball sideways in an arc. It rebounded off the backboard, hit the front of the hoop then fell through. “Two-two,” he retaliated.
Jason grabbed the bouncing ball and stood under the backboard. He looked for Randy past Ronnie as Randy moved one way then another and tried to keep away from Tim. Randy dodged around some more then Jason saw a clear path and he quickly shot the ball to him. Randy dribbled furiously to the other end of the court as Tim ran close behind and lateral to him. Jason hustled down the other side of the court as he tried to outrun Ronnie to the basket. Randy got near the end, stuttered to a stop and set himself to shoot. Tim swarmed Randy as Jason and Ronnie ran upon them. Randy passed the ball around Tim to Jason and he dribbled ahead quickly. Ronnie got in Jason’s way, Jason went around him and launched the ball to the basket. It hit the backboard at an angle and bounced through the net. “Three-two,” he said.
Ronnie grabbed the ball, stood under the backboard and Jason positioned himself in front of him. He faked a pass one way then the other as Jason moved sideways with the ball until Ronnie bounced it diagonally into Tim’s hands and the action of the game shifted down court.
The match went on with both sides trading baskets and rebounds as the lead changed several times with the difference no more than two points. Dusk approached as a golden orange sunset shone over the western mountains and cast the last of the sunlight across the neighborhood, the park, and its visitors. Jason felt energized and immersed into the intense, reciprocating competition. Some other people at the park noticed their game and watched for a bit.
“C’mon, man, try to keep up,” Tim baited Randy.
“On your ass, motherfucker,” Randy warned.
“Bitch, you’re laggin,’” Tim spun around Randy, shot the ball to the basket, and it fell through. “Oh yeah! Back on top!”
Randy grabbed the ball as he went under the backboard. He slung it to Jason. Jason quickly dribbled to the other basket while being flanked by Ronnie. He ran across the half court line then passed the ball to Randy. Randy charged ahead, jumped to the basket simultaneously with Tim as they bumped against each other, then he underhanded the ball to Jason while in midair. Jason got the ball as Ronnie swiped at it, dribbled a couple times to the basket, then pushed the ball up to the hoop. It went over the rim and fell through.
“Fuck yeah!” Randy shouted. “Thirteen all!”
“Settle down,” Ronnie said as he grabbed the ball, “we’re just getting started.”
“That’s right,” Tim backed up, “I put the T in Run TMC.”
“Oh my god!” Randy laughed. “That is the stupidest fucking thing you’ve ever said.”
“Always talking shit,” Tim accused angrily.
Ronnie stood under the backboard. Jason got in front of him and focused on the ball as Ronnie held it close. Tim and Randy ran around behind Jason, then Tim got the pass from Ronnie and furiously dribbled down court quickly trailed by Randy then Jason and Tim. The game persisted as the momentum and the lead shifted back and forth. The pace quickened as they competed more aggressively, and they increasingly taunted and insulted each other. The glow of the sun was disappearing behind the western mountains and night approached over the eastern mountains as people began to leave the park.
Jason and Randy battled to a nineteen to eighteen lead as Tim ran and dribbled then made a shot over Randy to the basket. The ball ricocheted off the backboard and fell toward Jason and Ronnie. They jumped for the ball and Jason snagged it first. He dribbled quickly and sped down court as he anticipated the winning point. He heard footsteps all around him and noticed Ronnie in his periphery running alongside. He then saw Randy running ahead of him to the other side. He passed the ball to him then veered away from Ronnie. Randy charged to the basket and got the ball up as Tim ran up by him and knocked it away. The ball bounced toward the foul line and Randy chased after it as Ronnie tried to get it first. Randy grabbed the ball with both hands, spun around and shot it to the basket while still in motion. The ball traveled in an arc, hit against the hoop, rolled around a couple of times and fell through. “Yes!” Randy shouted. “Game point!”
“Hey!” Ronnie yelled as he pointed down at the foul line. “Your foot was over the line, right here!”
“I was in!” Randy yelled back while pointing to the same spot.
“Bullshit! You were out!”
“Yeah,” Tim said as he got behind Randy. “Our ball!”
“Game over! We win!” Jason said out loud.
“Your foot went over the goddamn line!” Ronnie pointed again at the spot on the blacktop. “Here! Right fucking here!”
“Yeah! I saw it too!” Tim chimed in.
“You lost!” Jason insisted. “Now go on home!”
“Stop your crying!” Randy shouted back at Ronnie, “I wasn’t out! I was in! We won it fair! Now quit your bitching!”
“Fuck you, punk!” Randy and Ronnie advanced upon each other. Tim backed up Ronnie and Jason got behind Randy. They swore at each other and argued some more in the near empty park. Jason felt a rush from the heat of conflict as he stood behind Randy and became entangled in the noisy ruckus. The boisterous shouting went back and forth until tempers cooled down and Jason dragged Randy away while Tim pulled Ronnie away.
“C’mon,” Jason said to Randy, “let’s go. We won and they know it. Sore fuckin’ losers just don’t want to admit it.”
“In your dreams, motherfuckers!” Ronnie said defiantly and they traded a few more taunts as they slowly parted from each other. Randy picked up Jason’s basketball from the end of the court as he and Jason left the park. Randy bounced the ball forcefully on the sidewalk with one hand then the other as they walked home. Jason was still feeling agitated from the almost fight and moved quickly. The sun was below the horizon and twilight was cast over the valley as street lamps began to turn on.
“What a couple of whiny fuckin’ babies,” Randy said as he dribbled the ball from hand to hand. “No respect.”
“They’re punks,” Jason said. “Remember when we used to hang out with Ronnie’s brother Jeff? He wasn’t a smart ass, he was all right.”
“He should’ve kicked Ronnie’s ass more often,” Randy said.
“I think we showed him.” Jason’s excitement slowly ebbed and his breathing became easier.
“Man, my heart is still racing,” Randy said while dribbling.
“Must be the adrenaline buzz,” Jason said.
“That and those two little fuckers getting under my skin,” Randy said.
“They’re not so little anymore.”
“So what? We can still fuck them up.”
“Of course,” Jason said. “Remember what a skinny little bastard Tim was when he was a freshman? Couldn’t have weighed more than a hundred pounds.”
“Yeah, and he already had a big mouth.”
“No respect,” Jason repeated. The layer of sweat covering him cooled him off in the balmy early evening. He breathed in deeply and felt good as they walked home in the increasing darkness. He began to relax after the excitement of the game and the heat of the argument had dissipated. “Felt good getting that win,” he said. “I thought I might be slipping.”
“Nah, you haven’t lost a step,” Randy reassured. “You played real good, if anything there were a couple of shots I missed that I should have made, especially the one you dished off to me when they tried to double team you.”
“Yeah, but that was a tough corner shot. You didn’t miss by much.”
“I should’ve hooked it more.” Randy finally stopped dribbling and held the ball against his side. “We got to do this more often, and get some some of the other guys to play too.” They talked about the game some more as they were walking until they arrived at Randy’s house.
“I bet you had a funner time than if you went to class tonight,” Randy said.
“Yeah, it was fun,” Jason admitted, “especially getting that win.”
“So you want to grab a beer?” Randy asked.
“Can’t. Going over to Christine’s right now,” Jason said. “I’ll save myself for Todd’s party tomorrow night.”
“Right on,” Randy said. “At least you’re getting some tonight.”
“Don’t you have Gina to go to?”
“I don’t know, she’s being a real pain in the ass right now. I’ll go and see what some of the other guys are doing.” Randy jogged across the yard to his front door. “See you tomorrow night. Man, I can’t wait!”
“Try to control yourself, all right?” Jason said jokingly.
“I’ll be on my best behavior, I swear,” Randy promised, and they both laughed. They waved one last time as Randy entered his house.
The front door closed and Jason moved along. The neighborhood was suddenly silent and the overhead street lamps shone yellow as he walked home alone with his thoughts. He replayed the last few seconds of the basketball game in his mind and was certain he and Randy had won. He silently reveled in victory for the rest of the walk, and sensed an overall positive feeling about his life and its direction.
Jason came to his house then looked down at his empty hands and realized he didn’t have his basketball. “Dammit,” he said to himself. “Forgot it again.”
©2016 Robert Kirkendall